The Genius Of Design Review: Ghosts In The Machine

May 6, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews


Promising to explore an often overlooked and misunderstood form of art and industry, The Genius Of Design kicks off tonight on BBC2.

This first episode, entitled ‘Ghosts in the Machine’, begins by explaining the role of designers in our lives. As the soothing voice of narrator Denis Lawson describes, “they worry about stuff, not in general but in particular, the fine detail of stuff, the stuff that we build our lives from; they worry about it so we don’t have to?.

The show introduces two leading designers to opine throughout, the design legend Dieter Rams and Ford Motors’ global head of design, J Mays, while it meanders through an extended intro of vague and significant sounding statements about the importance of design.

Thankfully things then fall into a more chronological order, starting with the moves from bespoke product creation towards de-skilling and mechanised mass production. Wedgewood vases and Portmerion crockery are cited as examples of the need for manual skills even today, while various industrial revolution advances are exemplified by the likes of the Darby cooking pot and drummer boy sheep shears; all given their own art gallery style white background and title.

Tensions between quality and cost are then explored via William Morris’ arts and crafts movement and Christopher Dressers use of the Japanese ideal of beauty in functionality, leading to the modernist philosophy of simplicity as an economic virtue.

The show comes to an end by looking at the automobile as the 20th century’s design paradigm, with Henry Ford’s Model T considered for its revolutionary assembly line production, as well as its creator’s reticence to create new designs and embrace planned obsolescence. This is held up as one of the key characteristics of a designer – the need to constantly improve the little things – and what separates the designer from the engineer and artist with an infinitely more important role; given the multitude of commercial concerns their decisions carry.

It’s hard to tell what the series will focus on next, but with a little bit more specific explanation and examination rather than the empty rhetoric that currently fills the gaps, this could be a series well worth getting into.

michael says:

Empty rhetoric is right. The number of missed opportunities for exploring the genius of design in detail is made all the more frustrating by the constant repetition of vague platitudes about design. Occasional nuggets of interest arise, but the wait between them is unnecessarily long.